Swimming teacher from St Neots looks back on 50 years in the pool

50 Years in Huntingdon Swimming, Patsy Coleman, at the Splash Academy,

50 Years in Huntingdon Swimming, Patsy Coleman, at the Splash Academy, - Credit: Archant

Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life; a saying one woman from St Neots has definitely managed to live by.

50 Years in Huntingdon Swimming, Patsy Coleman, at the Splash Academy, with some of her class,

50 Years in Huntingdon Swimming, Patsy Coleman, at the Splash Academy, with some of her class, - Credit: Archant

Patsy Coleman has spent 50 years swimming, teaching, coaching, training, and even led the British Paralympic team to victory in the 1990s.

Now running Splash Academy at Hinchingbrooke School, she sometimes spends 60 hours a week instructing almost 900 pupils; a venture which has grown from a list of just 33 in 2000.

“I love it when people do things they don’t think they’re going to do,” she told The Hunts Post.

“I love their sense of achievement.”

Patsy was head coach of the British Paralympic Team from 1993 to 1997 helping them secure second place at the 1996 games in Malta, as well as top medal rankings in competitions all over the world.

In 1994 at the IPC World Championships her team came first in the tally, taking home 31 gold, 11 silver and 22 bronze medals.

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In 1995 she did it again; first place at the IPC European Championships with 36 gold, 32 silver and 23 bronze.

“It was fabulous. When we went to the World Championships a government minister rang at the time to congratulate us on our success and he rang just before the competition finished.

“He came on the phone to me and as he was speaking the three Union Jacks were going up for the last medal because we won bronze, silver and gold in the last race and the national anthem was going.

“It’s one of those moments I’ll never forget.”

It’s hard to imagine then, that Patsy’s coaching career almost didn’t happen.

At 16, after swimming at the nationals against Scotland and Wales, she decided to stop and focus on becoming a swim teacher, gaining her qualification two years later.

“After I’d been teaching for a year my old coach said ‘I need a new junior coach, would you do it?’, and I wasn’t sure if I was ever going to do coaching.

“I just wanted to make a difference but of course once I’d done a couple of sessions I thought, ‘This is the best job in the whole world.’”

Since then, she has also taught in St Ives, been Head Coach of the Disability Sport England Development Squad, worked at the Sydney Paralympics, and won a host of awards.

Now, after seeing an opportunity at Hinchingbrooke School, in Huntingdon, she’s gone back to basics teaching people how to swim as well as training future educators; another environment she thrives in.

In fact, the likes of Lauren Steadman, Fran Williams and David Roberts have all attended the school, each one going on to become a British Paralympian.

“Getting a child or adult to trust you, to give you more than they actually have; I love people to succeed,” she said.

“I think success is a sunshine. What raises your spirits higher than walking away from something knowing you’ve done the best you could?”

Despite her plethora of achievements, thousands of children taught by her, and teachers across the country trained at her school, Patsy is not finished yet.

“I never struggle to come to work. My steps are always light. I just want Splash to carry on, but I’m not done yet. Definitely not. It’s funny; I can feel it in the breeze.”

It’s hard to tell where she’ll go next, but one thing’s for sure; her love of swimming will feature somewhere.

“Swimming was like I’d come home,” she said.

“It was like it was meant to be. I couldn’t catch a ball or skip without getting my feet tied in knots, but if you put me in a swimming pool, it was just heaven.”